My mom remembers well where she was on December 7, 1941. Rebecca Still was 36 days away from her 13th birthday and had just spent the better part of her childhood in Tokyo. My grandfather, Owen Still, headed up the Yotsuya Mission near the Emperor’s Palace.

My grandparents, Owen and Shirley Still

He preached in a church with a makeshift steeple — which Japanese security inspected regularly, certain it was atop the building for spying purposes — and drew crowds that came to hear his fluent Japanese spoken with a soft Atlanta, Georgia, drawl.

My mom and her sisters also annoyed police when they’d attract crowds of gawkers by doing innocent things like going roller-skating in downtown Tokyo with metal clamp-on skates mailed by relatives.

Just weeks before December 7, the family had gotten an urgent message from the U.S. Embassy to evacuate to a luxury liner the U.S. Navy had commandeered in the mid-Pacific and sent to pick up American citizens in Tokyo. They and hundreds of other Americans were near-refugees – allowed only two pieces of baggage and crammed into every spare space of the ship, which then picked up more Americans and British in Shanghai and Hong Kong – dropping them off in Australia to find their own way home.

Japanese Zero aircraft on deck of the Shokaku

The Still family had made it back to the U.S. and my grandfather had taken a professorship at a college in Bentonville, Arkansas, when the announcement came over the radio. Japan had launched a sneak attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – as well as American and British forces in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

A Japanese task force of six aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku had launched 408 aircraft against Hawaii. The first wave targeted high-value targets — battleships and aircraft carriers, then cruisers and destroyers. Dive bombers strafed

and destroyed as many parked aircraft as possible to prevent an effective counterattack. When the attackers’ fuel got low, they returned to the carriers, refueled, re-armed and launched a second wave.

The West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona

Their mission was to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet and prevent America from interfering in the Empire of Japan’s expansion into China as well as the Pacific Rim territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States.

All eight U.S. battleships were damaged — four sunk. However, all the U.S. aircraft carriers were at sea. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer and destroyed 188 U.S. aircraft . In the attack, 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.

Of the American fatalities, nearly half of the total — 1,177 — were due to the explosion of the battleship U.S.S. Arizona‘s forward ammunition magazine after it was hit by a Japanese bomb.

The U.S.S. Arizona memorial today

Damaged and afire, the battleship U.S.S. Nevada attempted to escape the harbor and was targeted by Japanese bombers hoping she could be sunk strategically, blocking the harbor entrance.

The U.S.S. California was hit by two bombs and two torpedoes. The crew might have kept her afloat, but were ordered to abandon ship just as they were getting the pumps to work. Smoke from the Arizona and the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia had drifted over her, making her situation look worse than it was. The U.S.S. Utah was hit twice by torpedoes, the West Virginia seven times, the last one tearing away her rudder.